William P. Jacobson, Amanda A. Kohout
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InteractionComponents & Design

This review is going to touch on one of the biggest disappointments in my life. You see, I always wanted to be able to draw. Recognisable, maybe even artistic drawings. But no amount of practise was ever able to overcome the fact that I have the raw talent of a lemon slice. When I was a kid, and drew, for example, a dog, people would ask me what brand of car that was. And it didn’t get better since then.I’m not telling you this in order to evoke sympathy for my poor, untalented self, but just to illustrate my relationship with games involving drawing: I really like playing them, and I tend to lose miserably.

[pullshow/]Except that Identik advertises itself as a drawing game for all that don’t know how to draw. As you can imagine, I was intrigued when I heard about this game – actually, I first saw it in 2010’s Spiel des Jahres nominee list. Identik is still, very clearly, a drawing game. Drawing is what you do here, there is no strategy, no planning ahead, no moving meeple (that one is a bit sad), just putting pencil to paper. But where the standard variety of drawing game has one person draw and a bunch of others guessing what it could be, Identik is almost the exact opposite: one player describes a picture, and everyone else draws it. Afterwards,point are awarded for drawing as “similar” as possible to the original.

How does that work? Remarkably well, actually. Identik comes with a stack of 60 cards, each showing a picture in the upper part – and they are all double-sided, so it’s a total of 120 pictures. The player describing the picture for this round puts the card in the sleeve, covering everything except the picture, and keeps it hidden from the other players. He tells them the title of the card, turns the timer and then has 90 seconds to describe the picture, as accurately as possible.

The other players now get busy drawing, trying to stick closely to the description, and trying not to get lost in drawing details while the description went on to a completely different part of the picture already. With only 90 seconds, and pictures that are not exactly intricate but can be quite rich in details, the description will fly by fast enough that forgetting parts of it is not uncommon.

Hunting Time
Hunting Time

When the time is up, everyone passes their drawing to the next player to receive a critique – and thus a score. The score, however,  is not based on beauty of the drawing and how much the other player likes you. That would be a pretty dumb game, and would break the promise that you don’t need any drawing ability quite forcefully. Instead, the lower part of the card comes into play now: once it’s removed from the sleeve, ten details about the picture are uncovered, and the score of a drawing is only based on how many of these details are present. So if the description was good, and you followed it, you should easily score for all ten items, right? Wrong.Because the details that are relevant for scoring are completely arbitrary, and the player describing the picture did not know them before now, either.  So, chances are that the detail “a chicken is on the man’s head”was in the description and is in everyone’s drawing, too. But “no more than one of the man’s ears is visible” from the same card is much less likely to be explicitly mentioned, and then there is others with “at least four drops of sweat are visible” or “the face of the clock does not show numbers”  that you will only get right by sheer chance.

Every item is worth one point, except one that was rolled on the ten-sided die before and is worth three, so the perfect score is twelve points. The describer does not get off easy, either: he gets one point for every detail that at least one player had right, including the one detail that’s worth three to everyone else. After points are counted, the original picture is revealed. This is not actually important for the game mechanics, but it’s quite fun to see people’s faces when they realise what their drawing was supposed to look like. The game ends when everyone described one picture, so everyone had enough chances to embarrass themselves with their drawing skills.

Lets be frank here: Identik is not a game for everyone. It’s far on the party game side of the spectrum and a long way away from the strategic side. The only strategic decision you could possibly make is not to describe a picture at all when you have a lead of eleven points, because someone getting all the details right would pass you in that case – and that would be the bastard way to play and no fun for anyone. So there’s no strategy here. If you want to see your armies sweep over the world, your economic empire buy a continent or your workers building a castle faster than everyone else’s, just move along, there is nothing for you here.


On the other hand: describing and drawing in 90 seconds is a wonderfully tense affair. You try to squeeze in every little detail that you can think of, because you never know what might be important – only to discover that you didn’t mention someone’s head was bigger than the sun, as it was supposed to be. The critique phase, at least for us, tends to degenerate into a friendly free-for-all shouting match of “Yes, I have that right!” – “No, you don’t!” – “Of course I do. See, it’s right there.” Oh, THAT is a FISH”. Or maybe the ever-popular “But that is NOT the left side! You said the LEFT side”. If you’re only playing to win, you may find this part annoying because your score can come down to discussion and personal opinion, but if you’re playing to have a good time, this is part of it.

The pictures come in enough visual styles that guessing at details is pure luck. While the detail “person has eyebrows” occurs a few times, other pictures don’t have eyebrows. Some pictures tend towards a realistic Sunday-morning-newspaper-cartoon style while others are more distorted, even downright Young Picasso. So you have to rely on the description, and whatever is not there is next to impossible to guess.

If there is one thing I would warn about in Identik, it’s the relatively small set of cards. You use one card per player per game, and since a round is over very quickly, the usual is to play more than one in a row. So, after some time, you will have seen all the cards. The scoring details are too arbitrary to remember them all faithfully, but some details about every card will stick in your memory. That’s not a guarantee to win, but statistically, veteran players will score higher than newcomers. But at least that’s a problem that is easily fixable with an expansion of new card – something I wouldn’t be surprised to see soon – and most times you won’t be playing for score, anyway. Still being a newcomer in a round of experienced Identikers may be a bit frustrating. (While finalising the review and putting the Amazon identifiers, I noticed that at least has two expansions with 40 cards each available)

Other than this, if you are interested in party-game style games at all, Identik is a very fun one to pick up – and it really does not require any drawing talent! [pullthis]If you can manage stick figures, you’ll be fine. As long as your stick figures have eyebrows.[/pullthis]

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